Women, age 55 and under, who are depressed, are twice as likely to have a heart attack, says a new study. (Anne Clark/Getty Images)

Women, age 55 and under, who are depressed, are twice as likely to have a heart attack, says a new study. (Anne Clark/Getty Images)

Younger women (under 55) living with moderate to severe depression are twice as likely to have a heart attack, according to new research from Emory University in Atlanta.

The news should be of special concern to African-American women. We have a high risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (69 percent more likely than white women), and even though many reports estimate rates of depression among African-American women are nearly 50 percent higher than other groups, we are less likely to seek treatment.

“This may be one of the ‘hidden’ risk factors that can help explain why women die at a disproportionately higher rate than men after a heart attack,” said study author Amit J. Shah, M.D., in an Emory interview.

The study followed 3,237 people with heart disease or symptoms of heart disease for three years. They found that among the women (34

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percent of the group) ages 55 and younger, every one-point increase in depression symptoms equaled a seven-point increase in heart disease. There was no correlation between depression and heart disease among the men or older women in the study.

The younger women in the group were also more than twice as likely to have a heart attack or require a procedure such as heart bypass surgery during the study period if they had moderate to severe depression.

Shah said the results were a sign that “all people, but especially younger women, should take depression seriously.”

Beating the Blues

Though it may seem almost impossible to fight back when depression takes hold of your life, current treatments can be successful. The most important first step, and it’s a difficult step for many black women to take, is to let go of the cultural stigma against getting the help you need:

Learn the symptoms. Become familiar with this short list of the most common signs of depression. Feeling hopeless, suffering with chronic fatigue, and living with persistent sadness is not a normal part of life. Overeating is also a very common behavior associated with depression.

Don’t suffer in silence. Recent studies report that more than 63 percent of African Americans think that depression is a sign of personal weakness. About 34 percent say it’s not a real illness. Do not let people who harbor these incorrect beliefs stand between you and getting help. Pick up a copy of Terrie Williams insightful and moving book about depression in black women, Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting to learn more.

Work with a mental health professional. While prayer is often recommended by ministers as a form a mental health counseling, clinical depression can only be accurately diagnosed and properly treated by a trained mental health professional.

Contact the Association of Black Psychologists to find a professional in your area, learn more about support groups and affordable methods of getting therapy. Almost every state has a mental health office that gives referrals to organizations that provide therapy on a sliding-fee scale.